Halfway in the year and it's time to hand out the report cards. Eight staff writers gave a letter grade to each Avalanche defenseman and goaltender and I averaged them out. Here are the results:
Tyson Barrie - B-
|2013 - Tyson Barrie||24||2||5||7||4||14||1||0||0||36|
Tyson Barrie is still clearly growing into his role. Some might say he tries to do too much. His penchant for attempts at physicality is admirable, if ineffective. Offensively, he brings a prowess that this team sorely needs, though a large chunk of that prowess still lives in the realm of potential. Overall, however, I vouch that Tyson Barrie is underrated by half a grade. His puck-moving abilities are crucial and I'm starting to believe that his ceiling is higher than even us homer MHHers give him credit for.
Andre Benoit - B
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Andre Benoit has been, bar-none, the biggest surprise for Colorado this year. With the trio of Benoit, Guenin and Sarich replacing the mess that was Zanon, O'Byrne and O'Brien, some worried it a lateral move. Benoit has been the strongest of the newcomers, providing sound positioning and crisp passing most of the time. His ten assists are just gravy. Having said that, the Avs can't expect too much else out of him going forward. He's a good bargain defenseman with a settling presence to the blueline, and nothing more.
Nate Guenin - C+
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Nate Guenin's grade divided us the most, with one staff writer giving him a D, while others showered him with B's. It's no question his story is wonderful: career AHLer finally cracks an NHL roster at age 31 through hard work and determination. But as a top six d-man for the Avs? Ideally, he is a 7th defenseman. Someone to fill in through injuries and scratches. But the Avs have a mediocre core and so Guenin is relied on to eat up some big minutes. Personally speaking, I side closer to the D grade than the B. It's easy to overlook the poor decisions he makes simply because they are not as painstakingly obvious as those that Zanon or O'Brien had created. Whether it's choosing the wrong pass or skating a little too slow, he creates more work for himself than he has to. I will certainly laud his grit and his appreciation for the ins and outs of being a defensive defenseman, but that's about it.
Jan Hejda - A
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Jan Hejda has gained a reputation of being 'underappreciated,' mostly because he has always played for struggling teams. Now that the tides are finally changing in his career, the hockey world better take notice. He is arguably the most reliable Av, moreso now than ever.
Nick Holden - INC
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Nick Holden has been a pleasant surprise this season. We've quickly learned about his wicked shot and his eagerness to step up into the play. Anybody else see a golden retriever anytime he's interviewed?
Erik Johnson - A
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And the award for the most improved player goes to Erik Johnson. What can be said that isn't obvious on the ice? Offensively, he is involved on a consistent basis - and he's actually contributing points while he's at it. Defensively, he is everywhere. His skillset - passing, puck movement, positioning, you name it - continues to burst, and his confidence is sky high. What a sheer treat to watch.
Cory Sarich - B-
|2013 - Cory Sarich||35||1||8||9||5||30||0||0||0||36|
Cory Sarich is one of the rare veterans on the team. He's also one of the few players who can truly deliver a bone-shattering hit. Similar to Guenin, I'd prefer him as a 7th defenseman, but in the circumstances he fills in solidly.
Ryan Wilson - INC
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Poor Ryan Wilson just can't stay healthy. He's "the big hitter" of our team. In his few appearances he has been prone to lapses on defense.
J.S. GIguere - A
|2013 - Jean-Sebastien Giguere||11||622||7||3||26||2.51||317||291||.918||2|
No surprises here for the Conn Smythe-winning J.S. Giguere. Apart from the odd game or two where he was completely switched off, Giggy (or is it Jiggy? I can never remember) has single-handedly kept the Avs in numerous games.
Semyon Varlamov - A
|2013 - Semyon Varlamov||29||1683||16||8||66||2.35||898||832||.927||1|
Semyon Varlamov has benefited from goalie coach Francois Allaire's expertise. Varly struggled in the past in finding that balance between (1) his raw athleticism and (2) technique. In the past he created more work for himself than he needed to. Looked cool on the highlight reels, but it was hardly economical. His body positioning has vastly improved. He is more square to the shooters, giving them less leeway than in the past. His glove hand is also positioned better. On a more minor note, his play of the puck outside the crease is more natural and timely. I can't find the interview (because I didn't try looking for it) but I remember Varly saying something about how he's never worked harder than he has this season. That work is clearly paying off.
So how would you grade the Avs' defense and goaltending thus far? Let us know in the comments.